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‘Billy Graham rule’ & religious liberty

CARY, N.C. (BP) — A Southern Baptist deacon and law enforcement officer is suing his former employer for religious discrimination, claiming he was fired because he refused to spend long hours alone with a female deputy he had been assigned to train.

The plaintiff Manuel Torres does not mention in the lawsuit the late evangelist Billy Graham, but Graham was known for establishing early in his ministry a standard — aimed at avoiding the appearance of evil — to not spend time alone with a woman other than his wife. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has also cited the standard as a personal practice.

Torres cites the standard in his claim against Lee County Sheriff Tracy Lynn Carter and the small North Carolina towns of Siler City and Apex.

“Torres holds the strong and sincere religious belief that the Holy Bible prohibits him, as a married man, from being alone for extended periods with a female who is not his wife,” reads the lawsuit being litigated in the Eastern District of North Carolina federal court. “The job duty of training female deputies, in such a manner, violates Plaintiff’s religious beliefs against being alone for periods of time with female(s) who is/are not his wife and leaving the appearance of sinful conduct on his part.”

Torres would have had to spend long hours alone with the female trainee in a patrol car, according to the lawsuit, which describes Torres as a 51-year-old deacon at East Sanford Baptist Church in Sanford, N.C.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) granted Torres in April a Notice of Right to Sue regarding a complaint he filed with the EEOC in November, 2017, the lawsuit states. As is standard in all civil cases in the federal Eastern district, the case has been selected for mediation; but the selection does not indicate a desire to settle the claim, Torres’ local attorney B. Tyler Brooks told Baptist Press.

Carter refused to accommodate Torres’ religious practice, the lawsuit contends, and retaliated by firing Torres in September, 2017. Siler City refused to hire Torres as a patrolman, discriminating and retaliating against him because of his religious accommodation request with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Torres claims. Apex never responded to Torres’ application for employment as a police officer, the lawsuit asserts, because the Lee County Sheriff’s Office informed Apex of Torres’ religious accommodation request.

His termination and employment rejections violate Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and North Carolina Public Policy, the lawsuit claims.

Torres seeks more than $300,000 plus interest, jointly and severally, in compensatory damages from the defendants, more than $15,000 plus interest in punitive damages, and court costs.

To date, only Apex has responded to the lawsuit, according to court documents. Apex was granted on Aug. 20 an extension of time to answer the complaint, which extends through Oct. 3.

Charlotte Cover of Mason, Ohio, is Torres’ lead counsel.